New gold nanotubes can detect and treat cancer

Researchers from the University of Leeds have found that gold nanotubes can help to fight cancer.

When people have surgery to remove tumours, the cancer often comes back, which is why chemotherapy and radiation are also used. But those treatments have serious side effects, from severe nausea and hair loss to blistered skin.

These tiny tubes could deliver small, targeted doses of medication to cancerous cells, making treatment potentially more effective as well as reducing the chances of side effects. And not only can they treat cancer – they can detect it, too.

The tubes are designed specifically to be the right dimensions to absorb near-infrared light. This means that when a pulsed laser is shone on the tubes as they’re inside the body, they absorb the light, becoming hotter. This can lead them to be used for imaging cancer cells, or, if heated more, to destroy them. The straw shape means that medication can also be added, and activated when the tubes are in the right place.

The nanotubes are injected into a vein and later safely broken down by the body.
This is the first time scientists have shown gold nanotubes can be used in a living organism – they successfully demonstrated the technique in a mouse that had been infected with human cancer. They’re now working towards clinical trials in the hope that it will be successful for humans, too.

Image credit: Jing Claussen (iThera Medical, Germany).

Diane Shipley